Above: The bride entering the church
Sunday 5/31/09 Gulu, Uganda
I recently attended the wedding of a Ugandan co-worker. In Uganda, couples often have two weddings when they marry: a typical, traditional wedding and a Western, Christian wedding. Both events are hours-long affairs. The footage below is from a Christian wedding ceremony.
In this video, you’ll see and hear elements of the pre-Christian, indigenous Acholi culture–repetitive singing, group dance, screams punctuated with tongue clicks, ornate tribal clothing– fused with of iconic components of the Christian wedding ceremony–white bridal gown, child flower girls, ribbon-lined church pews. Ugandans, like other peoples who have also taken on foreign religions, carried over elements of their pre-existing religious ideology to their adopted religion. A Ugandan wedding service absent of dance and song would lack legitimacy and spirit.
Religious fusion, a blending of thought and tradition that eases a group’s transition from one set of spiritual beliefs to another, is behind everything from Japanese brides who rent both white gowns and kimonos on wedding day to South African witch doctors who help ‘cure’ Christians of evil by using roots and animal bones. The honored remnants of culture that persist amidst adopted religious ceremonies can be delicate echoes of past times.
How long, though, will the Acholi continue to separate their weddings? How long will old Acholi women continue to congratulate brides by stepping forth from wedding crowds to yell and point in a bride’s face?
Some of the cultural echoes that ring through modern society deserve to be silenced, regardless of which language you speak or which passport you hold. I once heard someone tell me that any and everything ‘cultural’ had a certain relevance to it, a certain validity that warranted its protection. Here in Uganda, because people are still so fervently debating the legality of things like female genital mutilation, and because village spirit mediums are still committing child sacrifice for their paying customers seeking luck and fortune, newspaper articles about these practices are commonplace. No compassionate, educated person, however, could defend such traditions; they were steeped in beliefs that preceded things like medical understanding and the prizing of gender equality. Yet they persist. Despite its ability to endure, not every old practice or ancient thought deserves a place in the present.
The vestiges of Acholi marriage sewn into this modern Christian ceremony, though, are beautiful and energizing elements of celebration. Without them, this service would have taken on a very different (and less jubilant) energy. I watched this wedding while in a malarial daze, but was thankful I had the chance to see it, nonetheless.